March 8, 2013 by Scott Schwartz in Preview with 5 comments
For many college teams in the Midwest, the start of the 2013 spring season can be summed up in one word: flaky. For those fortunate enough to play in warmer regions and stay insulated from these weather tribulations, that’s flaky as in: frequent snowstorms and tournaments that fail to come to fruition at the last minute. Two weeks ago there was the abrupt cancellation of Free State Classic in Kansas City. This weekend, it’s the Old Capitol Open in Cedar Rapids that has been snowed out, and it has left some teams scrambling to find enough green grass to make all those hours spent conditioning indoors worthwhile.
We’re already into the second weekend of March, and exactly half of the teams at Huck Finn have yet to step onto the field for a sanctioned game. Huck Finn, the 17th annual St. Louis tournament hosted by Washington University (Contra), has filled the void, taking on eight strong new teams to round out an already competitive field. The infusion of teams will undoubtedly reshape the competitive balance for this year’s 24-team field. Of the eight new attendees, five are D-I mainstays: Luther, Illinois (#16), Iowa (#23), Iowa State, and Kansas. Then there’s D- III Nationals stalwart St. John’s (#6 – DIII). They’ll look to make their mark in new territory.
The territory is new for the hosts as well, as Huck Finn has migrated this year to the Chesterfield Valley Athletic Complex, which should be a welcome change of pace for teams who just wrapped up a weekend playing a frozen tundra at Midwest Throwdown, also in St. Louis.
Luther enters Huck Finn as the top seed and only Nationals qualifier from last year. They have a lot to prove this year, however, after going 1-5 in the fall at Missouri Loves Company. They also have big shoes to fill now that their superstar Eric Johnson has graduated. They will rely on captain and 2012 All-Region nominee Josh Johnson to lead them against tough North Central competition this weekend.
The second and third seeds, Illinois and Iowa, would certainly love to meet Luther in the finals and prove that they are poised to make a run at Nationals. Both teams narrowly missed out on Nationals last year, losing at Regionals in heartbreaking fashion. Illinois returns 2012 1st team All-Region player Ryan Smith, who is a big part of the reason Illinois is Huck Finn’s highest ranked team in Ultiworld’s Top 25. Illinois also had an unremarkable MLX appearance, although they did hand Arizona (#5) one of its two losses in the 2012-2013 season (their other loss was to Wisconsin).
Iowa, led by strong play from Jake Kersten and Jake Oakley (both captains), will also be eying the tournament victory this weekend.
The middle of the pack finds Iowa State, Kansas, Wash. U., Kansas State, Mizzou, Texas State, and Colorado State looking to break into the conversation with an upset of a top seed on Saturday. Indeed, Iowa State’s Andrew Moore called Ultiworld out on Twitter, laughing at the current top 25. They did have a 10-8 win over Iowa at the Iowa Indoor tournament in January, but they’ll have to prove it now that it counts as a sanctioned game. With teams playing five games to 11 in their pools on Saturday, there should be a fair number of games coming down to the wire. St. John’s is joined by fellow D-III contender Harding (#2 – DIII), last year’s Huck Finn champions.
Fresh off a tournament victory at Hendrix Ultimate Experience (HUX), Harding will have a tough road ahead of them if they are to reclaim last year’s Huck Finn crown. Their path to first place at HUX two weeks ago included Sunday wins over Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
The only other team with a tournament victory thus far in the spring season is Wash. U., who fled south to the Cowbell Classic in Mississippi after they weren’t able to play at Free State. Contra made the most of their trip, taking care of business with wins over Auburn and Tulane on Sunday.
Tournaments are always about matchups and fatigue, so don’t be shocked if there are some inconsistent results between Saturday and Sunday as teams calibrate and shake off the rust. That said, with a slightly shortened USA Ultimate college regular season in 2013, teams don’t have the luxury of much time before the Series kicks into high gear. Especially for teams aspiring to Nationals with a constant eye towards their rankings, every game has a heightened sense of importance. We might see some teams playing on edge, for better and for worse.
In Mark Twain’s timeless classic, our hero Huckleberry “never felt easy till the raft was…out in the middle of the Mississippi…We said there warn’t no home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don’t. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.” Huck Finn, the ultimate tournament, sees teams travelling down the Mississippi to St. Louis not aboard rafts, but in cars and vans, eager to get the action underway. As long as the skies are clear enough to toss a huck or two, I suspect teams will feel not unlike Huck did: “mighty free and easy and comfortable.” Let’s play some ultimate.